Fueling For The Hunt – Why Your Food Choices Matter

Heading Into the Woods

So far my season has consisted of trying to find time for quick hunts among a crazy schedule.  I’ve snuck out for a few morning hunts and spent several evenings hunting for a few hours after work.  Planning and packing the essential gear for these short hunts is easy.  However, when November rolls around and I begin spending long, dark-to-dark days in the stand, the the amount of things that I need to pack increases quite a bit.

Historically, my packing for such long hunts has focused mainly on proper clothing and essential hunting gear (weapon, optics, calls, etc).  I used to give little thought about what food I would pack, which as I have come to realize, is a HUGE mistake.  I’ve come to learn – the hard way – that smart nutrition choices can actually help me hunt more effectively.

A hungry stomach can drive you out of the stand, as can an upset one.  Grabbing only what is convenient often means loading up on processed sugar and junk calories, which will give you some initial energy, but also lead to a crash.  I’ve noticed that my level of comfort, alertness, focus, and even warmth, are influenced by what I eat over the course of a long day’s hunt.

Now, I don’t have a bunch of time to spend preparing food during the peak of my hunting season, and I’m sure that you don’t either.  Things like jerky and trail mix are convenient staples, and are actually a fairly good choice for quality calories.  But other common convenience items that hunter’s tend to grab aren’t such smart choices.  Energy drinks, donuts, pastries, snack cakes, heavy/greasy breakfast items, energy bars, etc. – these items don’t provide long-lasting, quality calories.

Here are a few of my favorite hunting season staples that are easy to prepare, convenient to pack, quiet to eat on the stand, and provide some quality, balanced calories…

Quick and Easy Breakfast – Overnight Steel Cut Oats

I’m not a huge fan of traditional oatmeal, but I do enjoy steel cut oats.  However, there is one huge problem with steel cut oats – they take forever to prepare!

Well, thanks to my wife and her obsession with Pinterest (please tell me that I am not the only guy whose wife/girlfriend is obsessed with that site!) I discovered a quick, no-fuss method to prepare steel cut oats.

The basic idea is to add even amounts of steel cut oats and almond milk into a container, mix in some spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla extract), and then throw it in the fridge to sit overnight.  In the morning you can top this concoction with some extra goodies (I do sliced almonds, slices of banana, and some dark chocolate chips) and then either eat it cold or heat it up in the microwave.

Here is one example RECIPE to get you started.

This breakfast will hang with you and takes all of 2 or 3 minutes to prepare.

Lunch in the Woods – Probars

I’m not a fan of most energy, protein, meal-replacement, or nutrition bars.  Most of them taste bad and sit in my stomach like a rock.  One of my friends told me about Pro Bars, and though I was skeptical, I gave in and tried one.  I was surprised that I didn’t have to choke it down; it actually tasted good!  I was even more surprised to find out that they are completely natural with no added sugars, fillers, preservatives, etc.  (Pro Bar also touts the fact that their bars are vegan, which always makes me chuckle a bit as I eat one while attempting to kill something for a real dinner.)

There is a flavor of Pro Bar for pretty much everybody, and though I haven’t tried them all, I will tell you that ‘Superfood Slam’ and ‘Nutty Banana Boom’ are awesome!

You can check out the entire line at TheProBar.com

Afternoon Energy – Wilderness Athlete, Energy & Focus

I know that I’ve already told you that I wasn’t a fan of energy drinks, and I’m not, but Wilderness Athlete’s Energy & Focus is different from your average quick-stop, liquefied sugar bomb in a can.

Energy & Focus won’t give you the jitters, and it won’t lead you to crash and burn.  What it will do is give you a good boost of sustained energy, which I have found helpful to fight off the afternoon naps in the stand.  Add in the fact that Energy & Focus also gives you a good dose of vitamins and it is hard to pass this stuff up.

Learn more at WildernessAthlete.com

Dinner on the Stand – Peanut Butter, Honey, and Bacon Bagels

Yes, you read that right – peanut butter, honey, and bacon on a bagel.  Sounds crazy, tastes delicious, and will fill you up!

I don’t know where this idea originated, but it has sort of become a cult staple of Western hunters that are out in the wilderness for days at a time.  I caught my first mention of the idea in Cameron Hanes’ book, Backcountry Bowhunting.

I prepare a few of these in advance by toasting my bagel and letting it cool.  I then add a fair dose of peanut butter, a drizzle of honey, and some cooked bacon.  Throw all of that together sandwich style, put it in a zip-loc, throw it in your pack, and hit the woods.

All I am saying is this, “Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!”

What are your hunting season food staples?

This article also appeared on WiredToHunt.com

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The Friday Files – String Jumpers, Kill Shot Celebrations, Delicious Deer, and More…

A doe ducks the shot

Do deer really jump (or duck) the string?

Deer hunter and biologist, Grand Woods, has a great article about deer that jump/duck the string. This idea is well-known to bowhunters, and is a common reason given for missed shots, but does it really happen?  Can a deer react fast enough to avoid an incoming arrow?  Find out for yourself…

How should we respond after a kill shot?

What do you do when you successfully kill the animal you are hunting?  Do you show your excitement with whoops, cheers, or celebration?  Do you quietly thank the animal?  Do those that hunt on video react for the viewer?…Is their emotion genuine?  What should we do?  Join the discussion on this topic…

Dear deer, you’re delicious

Some interesting history and perspective on venison from an unlikely source, CNN.com.  Did you know that the word “venison” is derived from the Latin word for “to hunt” or “the chase”?  Learn more…

American Grouch

My friend Nick recently turned me on to a new bowhunting blog; check out the American Grouch from some great stories and some amazing photos.

Evolution of a Hunter

This infographic takes a look at the four stages of a hunter’s evolution.  Obviously these stages don’t capture the nuances and feelings surrounding each of our experiences as hunters, but I do think that it is a fair way to summarize a common journey that many hunters live.  Do you fit in any of these stages right now, or have you in the past?

Evolution of a Hunter

Good luck to those that are hunting this weekend!

Operation Groundkill – Tips For Hunting Whitetails From The Ground

Hunting from the ground

One of my goals for this season is to kill a whitetail from the ground with my bow, without the use of a blind.  I have labeled this mission, “Operation Groundkill”.

I set this goal for three reasons…

1) Hunting from the ground is a rush!  There is nothing like being up close and personal with a deer on the ground, especially when it is just a few yards away.

2) Hunting from the ground is a challenge.  I am on a constant quest to become a better hunter.  I judge this not by what I kill, but by how I kill it.  Hunting from the ground will force me to hone my hunting skills and instincts.

3) Hunting from the ground opens up new opportunities.  Let’s face it – there are some spots where a treestand, or even a ground blind, simply will not work well.  Instead of skipping these spots, I want to adapt my hunting methods to suit them.

I don’t have a ton of experience hunting in this manor, but I have already had some amazing encounters this season.  Here are a few simple things that I have learned as I have set myself free from the tree and started to hunt on the ground…

Get comfortable.  I have had good luck setting up on the ground in ambush points.  I pick these spots in a way that is similar to how I determine treestand locations, along travel corridors and pinch points.  To hunt from the ground at one of these locations you have to set yourself up so that you can be comfortable.  You can’t be moving around, shifting your weight, or constantly changing positions.  Comfort is crucial to keeping your movement down as you wait to ambush a whitetail buck.

Be quiet.  Moving around in the whitetail woods is a noisy affair.  Leaves, sticks, rocks…everythingmakes noise and disrupts the stillness of nature.  When you setup you have to clear your immediate area in a way that will allow you to be completely silent as you make the minor movements that may be necessary to get in shooting position.  Another noise to consider is your gear.  Does your bow make any noise when you draw it back?  Are your hunting clothes as quiet as you thought they were?

Kill your scent.  All bowhunters know that scent control is important, but it is especially vital to diminish our scent when we are hunting on the ground and coming within short range of the animals that we are after.  I can’t tell you how exciting it is to have a buck 4 yards away from you at eye level, but that will never happen if you don’t control your scent.

Range in advance.  Things happen fast on the ground.  Deer have a way of showing up out of nowhere, and many times you won’t have the time or opportunity to range them.  I always range several landmarks in advance so that I can determine what distance an incoming deer will be at.  Things look a lot different from the ground, and it is easy for distance to deceive you, especially when you are hunting in steep terrain, as I often do.

Determine where you can shoot.  When you are on the ground you are on the same level as every bush, thicket, and branch.  It may appear that you have shooting lanes in many places, but all it takes is one little deflection to send your arrow off course.  Determine where, exactly, that you can shoot and carry hand pruners to eliminate any obstructions as soon as you setup.

Know how and when to draw.  Timing is everything on the ground.  You can’t wait too late to draw your bow and risk getting busted, but drawing too early can lead to shakiness.  Every situation is different, and often things don’t go as planned.  Personally, I tend to draw early and rely on the bow-holding strength that I built up over the summer.  Another tip is to draw and aim where you expect to shoot the deer, and not where the deer is when you draw.  If you have a shooting lane to your left and the deer is headed towards that lane, then draw and hold on that lane and wait for the deer to come through.  Don’t draw on the deer and “track” them with your bow – that is too much movement!

Use cover.  Obviously using natural cover is important to keeping yourself concealed.  However, don’t try to put yourself behind cover, which will limit your range of motion and shooting opportunities; instead, focus on placing yourself in front of quality cover.  What is behind you is important for determining how your human shape will be concealed.  Speaking of concealment…

Camo everything.  I put a high value on camouflage when I am hunting from the ground.  I attempt to cover up every bit of skin, including my face and hands.  (I can’t stand face masks or gloves, so I use paint for my face and hands.)  I also make sure that I keep anything bright or reflective tucked away in my bag.  I think that sometimes we place too high of a priority on camouflage when rifle hunting, or hunting from a treestand, but camouflage is crucial for hunting form the ground at close ranges.

Track the sun.  In addition to natural cover and camouflage, one of the most effective tools for concealing yourself is using natural sun light.  Put the sun behind you and lurk in the shadows.  Determine where the sun is moving and how it will affect the light over the duration of your hunt.  Whatever you do, don’t get caught with the sun beaming towards you.

This article also appeared on WiredToHunt.com

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The Friday Files – Venison Mistakes, The Sportsmen’s Act, Awesome Mule Deer Hunt, and More…

Happy Friday!  Who is hunting this weekend?  We have a cold front moving through in our area. Yesterday the high was 83, it is currently 30 degrees cooler and the temperatures will continue dropping throughout the day.  It should be a great weekend to hit the whitetail woods!

Cooking Venison: Don’t Make These 5 Mistakes

There is nothing better than some venison that has been prepared with care, but it does take some basic knowledge to handle venison correctly.  Do you make any of these 5 common mistakes when you prepare venison?  Find out…

Sponsor of Sportsmen’s Act Tells Us Why It Should Be Law

Check out this exclusive interview from Field & Stream, with U.S. Senator Jon Tester, sponsor of The Sportsmen’s Act of 2012.  It is great to see two politicians come across the aisle and work together on a bill for Sportsmen!  Read the interview…

The Big Buck Project

My buddy Will has an interesting post about an outfit in Alabama that wants to release captive-bred trophy bucks into the wild to introduce trophy genetics into the local, free-ranging deer population.  Is this Smart?…Stupid?…or just Crazy?  Learn more and leave your opinion…

Unitasking – The Simple Beauty of the Solo Long Run

Believe it or not, I think that distance running and hunting share a lot in common.  Go read this article and replace “running” with “hunting”.  I think you will see what I mean.  Read the article…

The Monarch

Check out this great spot-and-stalk hunt for an awesome, old mule deer.

If you don’t see the video above, please watch it here.

Hunting – What you kill vs. How you kill it

Beginning sometime in early August my email account, Facebook feed and Twitter timeline have presented me with endless photos of antelope, elk, bear, mule deer, and whitetails that have been harvested all across the country.  The thing that is missing from most of these “trophy” photos is the story about the adventure that went harvesting the animal.

Some of these photos have come from people who are proud of their kill, and some of these photos have been posted by companies that are apparently using them as evidence that their products work.  Either way, what is missing from these photos is any details about the story, the adventure, the hunt.  These photos show us one thing – an ending.

Is the end what matters most?

I can’t think of a single book in which I have enjoyed the last chapter more than the rest, and I certainly can’t imagine reading only the last chapter of any story.

The end doesn’t stand alone; it must be a conclusion of something.  Life is not about how you die, it is about how you live.

I happen to feel the same way about hunting.  It isn’t about what you kill; it is about how you kill it.

On the ground, looking over

All hunters know this fact – that the ends are related to the means.  However, what I don’t think that we fully recognize is that we are making ‘ends’ versus ‘means’ decisions all the time.

Our focus is so set on the goal – the end – that we often don’t even think of our tactics, our gear, and our weapon as means.

Sure, all hunters recognize the polarity in the spectrum of hunting methods…

On one hand you have someone that is hunting in the wilderness with minimal equipment, and what he does have, he has fashioned himself from raw materials.  This person relies on no outside assistance, no modern technology, and will make no attempts to exert any control on the wild habitat and the creature that he is pursuing.

On the other end of the spectrum you have someone that pays to “hunt” within a high-fence enclosure using a high-powered rifle, which he wields from the comfort and safety of an enclosed shelter.  This individual will take every advantage that he can get, accepting nothing that will diminish his chances of success.  He relies not on himself, but on creating an environment where all he has to do is show up, select an animal and pull the trigger.

It is easy to recognize the differences in these two real-life examples, and I am sure you fall somewhere in the middle of these extremes.  But beyond deciding to adhere to what is moral, legal, and generally acceptable, do you give much thought to the means by which you seek to hunt?

Gear on the ground

The means matter to me.  Actually, the means are the primary driving force behind why I hunt.  It is why I primarily hunt with a bow and it is why I have begun to hunt from the ground more this year.  (I am certainly not against rifle hunting, treestands, or other “means”, which I will continue to use at times.)

Yes, the end, specifically the meat, is one reason that I hunt.  But when I head to the woods what I am really after is an adventure.  An experience.

And so, my hunting is largely dictated by methods; even if such methods diminish my chances at “success”.

View from the ground

Hunting from the ground with archery equipment, without a blind or other unnatural cover, is a thrilling challenge.  Just this week I was able to come eye-to-eye with bucks on two separate encounters – one at 6 yards, and one at 4 yards.  It was amazing to observe these animals at such a distance, on their level.

The first buck that I encountered had a mature body with a smaller, symmetrical 7-point rack.  I spotted him when he was about 80 yards away and slowly moving towards me.  He was the type of buck that I would have passed at this point in the season if I were hunting from a tree.  But in this hunt the means were more important than the ends and I was hoping that I would be able to get a chance of killing him from the ground.

He closed the distance to about 35 yards and took a trail which put a dense thicket between us.  I took advantage of this moment of visual disturbance and rose to my feet as I eased my bow string back, anchored, and settled in at full draw.  I was expecting him to clear the brush at any moment, providing me with a quartering-away shot of just 15 yards, if he remained on course.

Just as the buck’s head came in to view on the other side of the thicket, he turned and started heading right at me.  His steps continued and before I knew it I was eye-to-eye with this buck from a distance of no more than 6 yards.

I stood at full draw, trying not to shake.  He wasn’t able to see me or smell me, and contrary to what I would have thought, apparently he couldn’t hear my heart as it tried to pound its way out of my chest cavity.

The standoff continued for what felt like minutes, though it probably only lasted 45 seconds.

The buck turned to browse and provided me with a broadside, point-blank shot.  It was then that I noticed one wayward branch that was directly in the way of the short path that my arrow would need to fly if it was to pierce the buck’s vitals.  I tried to crouch slightly, slowly, quietly.  I am still not sure exactly how, but the buck caught my movement and darted off.

He fled just 40 yards and then he stopped, turned broadside once again, and looked back in my direction.  It was almost as if I could see the curiosity in the buck’s eyes.

Retreating and stopping to look back is common behavior for a mule deer, but it has been my experiences that the skittish whitetail will usually flee well out of sight with little care or curiosity about what spooked them.  Though this buck gave me a quick shot opportunity at 40 yards, I wasn’t confident that I had a clear shooting lane, nor was I sure that my pulse had settled to the point where such a shot would have been worthwhile.

Soon he turned back and continued up the hill, out of range, and then out of sight.  Now alone, I was able to process what had just happened in the previous minutes.

Had I failed?  Did I “blow” a hunt?  Was I upset?

No, not at all.

Although it would have been great if that story ended with backstraps in my freezer, I got what I was truly seeking from that hunt.

What ultimately matters to you? Is it what you kill, or is it how you hunt?